LOS ANGELES (April 12, 2016) — SAG-AFTRA paid tribute to the late Ken Howard in a two-hour celebration of life service Monday that featured remembrances and video clips of his acting career, his work as a union leader and his philanthropic efforts.
Close to 600 family, friends, fellow performers, industry executives and SAG-AFTRA colleagues gathered at the Leo S. Bing Theater at LACMA, adjacent to SAG-AFTRA Plaza, which Howard christened a year ago this month, to honor the memory of the late SAG-AFTRA president. Attendees heard the story of his rise from high school basketball player in Manhasset, N.Y., to Broadway performer, to TV and film actor, to leader of the largest entertainment industry union in the world.
With hundreds more members watching via streaming video, Howard’s successor, SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris, opened the program, which included remarks from 1776 director Peter H. Hunt, biographer Ron Fassler, former classmate and friend J. Lincoln Passmore, actor Michele Lee who starred opposite Howard in Seesaw on Broadway, and video messages from Tom Bergeron and Bryan Cranston.
“Ken loved SAG-AFTRA. He loved its members and what you stood for. Ken was an exceptional human being with an exemplary talent,” said Carteris. “It was his humanity that drove his talent and his humility that called him to serve his union again and again. He possessed that rare mix of charisma and gentleness. He had vision, but he also had the ability to live in the moment. Ken was an actor, an author and a mentor. He was rock solid.”
National Executive Director David White said, “Ken was a transformational leader. He was genuinely concerned about the ability of his peers, particularly the ability of the next generation to earn a living as performers. Once we merged, he quickly broadened his focus to learn about the aspirations and needs of our expanded membership. Ken truly relished his role as president.”
Executive Vice President Rebecca Damon also acknowledged the sacrifices of Howard’s wife of 24 years. “Ken’s wife Linda was an amazing source of strength to him in some of his most difficult hours of service. He loved you, Linda, and we really knew how much you loved him,” said Damon. “Ken cared deeply for the national board, the local presidents, the many elected members and all the volunteers around the country. He was proud of the work we all did together.”
"It was a beautiful celebration that perfectly expressed the full breadth of Ken’s life and service to the union," said SAG-AFTRA Secretary-Treasurer Jane Austin. "The range of presenters was particularly striking and through their memories we saw facets of Ken that were new to many of us.”
Ned Vaughn, a former executive vice president of SAG-AFTRA, said Howard often credited him with initiating his involvement in union service.
“That I can take even partial credit for bringing Ken Howard to union service, well, that is credit I will always treasure,” said Vaughn. “Because bringing Ken to union service turned out to be much more than giving a famous actor a chance to give something back. As it turned out, it was a case of finding the right man to accomplish a very important job.”
Josh Gad, who appeared with Howard in The Wedding Ringer, said Howard was widely regarded as a “titan” by his fellow actors after successfully pushing through the merger of SAG and AFTRA. “Under his two-term reign as president of SAG-AFTRA, he unwaveringly met thousands of actors who came to regard him as a friend, a leader, and unsurprisingly, yes, as a titan,” said Gad. “His guidance and direction will surely be missed.”
To close the event, Carteris introduced a video set to a curtain call number performed by Howard and the company of Seesaw from 1973. The video featured tributes from Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Aaron Paul and others.
Howard died March 23 at the age of 71.